Historic Images of San Francisco Before it Became a City


Historic Images of San Francisco Before it Became a City

Long before becoming the tech capital of the world, the San Francisco Bay Area was a completely different place and these historic images of San Francisco will reveal how this cosmopolitan hub looked like throughout its history.

Modern day Golden Gate Park is a 1,000-acre green space which used to be the largest sand dune ecosystem in the western hemisphere with dunes spanning over 7 miles south of the bridge. This is just one of the impressive transformation the area went through in order to become the city of San Francisco.

The first inhabitants of the area were the members of the Yelamu tribe, dated back to 3000 BC. There were around 150-300 people who lived in and around modern-day San Francisco.

Historic Images of San Francisco Before it Became a City

Spanish explorer and military commander Don Gaspar de Portolà led the first documented European expedition to the San Francisco Bay, in 1769.

This photo shows the sand dunes of 1910’s Golden Gate Park.

Historic Images of San Francisco Before it Became a City
Historic Images of San Francisco Before it Became a City

20th century photography shows the beautiful sand dunes which used to be located on the grounds of Golden Gate Park.

The first Spanish settlers built the Presidio of San Francisco in 1776 – “Royal Fortress of Saint Francis”) in 1776.

That same year, the Mission San Francisco de Asís, which is the city’s oldest surviving structure, was built. The Catholic church from the Mission was constructed out of adobe, brush and wood. It is shown below in a photograph from 1863.

Spain ruled the entire area until 1821 when it became part of Mexico.

The first homestead was founded in 1835 by English entrepreneur William Richardson. The homestead was just outside the Mission San Francisco de Asís, close to today’s Portsmouth Square (Chinatown neighborhood). Pictured below, Portsmouth Square, 1851.

Richardson and Alcalde Francisco de Haro, a Mexican soldier, laid out an urban plan to build a larger town which was supposed to be called Yerba Buena, meaning “Good Herb” in Spanish, based on a native aromatic plant. The same year, in 1835, American settlers started moving here.


10 years later, Yerba Buena doubled in population and reached the 1,000 residents milestone. The town’s name was officially changed to San Francisco.

This 1894 illustration of San Francisco shows how the town looked like in 1849. The town became the home base for the American gold rush and a center for maritime trade.

In 1906, a big earthquake and a fire devastated the city. The photo below shows the wreckage of San Francisco’s City Hall.

A riveter working on a skyscraper in San Francisco, circa early 1900’s. The city rebuilt itself in the next decades.

The city’s population started to grow. San Francisco, 1900’s.

The construction of the 1.7 mile long Golden Gate Bridge began in 1993. This photo shows the bridge in construction, in 1934.

The city’s infrastructure started to get a real form in the first half of the 20th century. This photo was taken in 1945, showing San Francisco’s earlier street cars, which had their first run in 1873.

Two women posing with the newly built bridge in 1940.

A photo with the members of the American psychedelic rock band – The Grateful Dead – in San Francisco, circa 1960s. The 60’s and 70’s were a time for artistic expression and San Francisco was one of the country’s hot spots for music and the arts.

San Francisco is home to over 800,000 people today, and numbers are growing by the day.

What an impressive history this worldwide beloved city has. Truly stunning to see how it all started.